Modern Gastronomy Dinner at Blue Point - San Diego, CA

Dinner - Saturday, October 15, 2011

Having eaten our way through the heyday of overtly modernist establishments (with some very nice highs and rather sad lows), we're typically leery of new places advertising molecular gastronomy menus. However, when our friend James from gastrobits invited us to a "Modern Gastronomy" dinner in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, we heeded his call - at only $100/person for 14 courses, it was an acceptable risk, especially given the promise of good company.

Thus, ten of us assembled on a rowdy Saturday night (the place was packed!) to share our stories, our wines, and partake of Chef Daniel Barron's interpretation of "the art and science of cooking".

"Dancing Bloody Mary"
Tomato water, compressed watermelon, vodka, jalapeno gel
The first course was served as an apéritif with a nugget of dry ice for effect. Dehydrated celery, horseradish and mustard powder circled the rim of the glass - intense and lovely. Form took precedence over function in this drink - it was extremely difficult to access the melon balls due to the shape of the glass, ultimately throwing off the flavour balance.

Osetra caviar, yuzu and champagne gelée
Mandarin orange, honey-salt mascarpone
Lobster "cake"
Corn nuts, strawberry pop rocks, chipotle jam
The cake was pure lobster - reshaped with transglutaminase, then steamed and seared. Nicely textured and very good with the nuts and pop rocks, although overshadowed by the sweet chipotle jam. A garnish of micro basil, micro arugula and micro beet greens added a nice herbacious quality.

"Foie gras three ways" - sous-vide, powder, vinaigrette
Smoked almond gel, dehydrated apple foam, arugula
Hiramasa belly
Root beer cotton candy, tsume, chili, peanuts

Hama Hama oyster
Serrano, ponzu air, nitro cracker
On occasion, one encounters a foam that actually has substance and body. Here, it was dense with salt, sweet and sour notes - a nice bracing counterpoint to the oyster (which was unfortunately slightly off, in my case). A good effort.

English pea bisque
Truffle milk froth, espresso
Flavour-wise, my dish of the night. The faultless soup was unabashedly pea-rich, and the ground espresso beans added gravity without being overwhelming. But why serve it in a syringe? We were instructed to squirt the liquid directly into our mouths - not only is it messy because it drips all over, but the barrel constrains the truffle's aromatics instead of setting them free. This perplexing obsession with syringes seems to be a common sin shared by many aspiring modernistas.

20-hour sous-vide Wagyu cheek
Sweet corn espuma, sage-cilantro gremolata, tomato-caper relish
Freeze-dried strawberry, fizzy orange cotton candy
A cute and effective palate cleanser - the fizz was generated by a reaction of (presumably) the citric acid from the orange and some ammonium bicarbonate upon exposure to the moisture in our mouths.

Hickory-smoked pork loin, BBQ sorbet
Salted radish puree, prosciutto spaghetti, micro basil
Very delicious. Hiding under the shaved radishes was a spherified bacon-blackberry-chili sauce, which oozed a rich, unctuous jam onto the toothsome meat. I enjoyed the frozen shot of sweet barbecue sauce on the side, although other diners had more mixed reactions.

Striped bass, sous-vide pork belly
Kabocha, chicharron, corn nuts, shiso
Curiously, this dish was entitled "Ike jime, pork belly", as though someone had gotten confused and named the fish after the technique (活け締め). It was well-cooked and tasty, although the heavy glaze of Valencia orange, soy and chili didn't win any prizes for subtlety. The shiso leaf was old, fibrous and completely lacking in taste.

40-hour sous-vide short rib
Horseradish potato hash, butterscotch-glazed garlic confit, guajillo sauce
Banana nougatine
Peanut butter powder, graham cracker crumble, sea salt caramel
The nougatine was topped with caramelized bananas and a cinnamon-infused whipped cream - my second-favourite course of the evening. The essence of bananas was clearly complemented by classic accompaniments such as peanut butter, graham cracker, and caramel. The salt in the latter three components kept the dish from becoming too cloying.

Liquid nitrogen vanilla sundae
Creme de cacao, bacon, peanuts, whiskey-macerated cherries
It was an enjoyable night out with great conversation. I can't fault Chef Barron for what he served us tonight - it's not something he prepares on a regular basis, and his regular clientele are the hapless tourists lured into the Gaslamp.

I still found our dinner educational in its own way. The meal illustrated the gap between a dabbler and the cognoscenti elsewhere in the country - the Bruno Chemels, Homaro Cantus and Wylie Dufresnes (Achatz and his progeny are of a different leaning), all of whose food we've enjoyed to various degrees. I don't even want to start getting into the foreign contingent here - one only has to look at Shola Olunloyo or the Talbot/Kamozawa team to see how the limits of food are being pushed locally. Slowly, very slowly, the wheel is turning, and their best techniques will trickle down in time. Until then, it is probably best to seek the experience at the sources of innovation.

Blue Point Coastal Cuisine
565 Fifth Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 233-6623